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Local hospitals respond efficiently to those affected by G'view fire

When the chemical fire at Wilbur-Ellis was first discovered, both Sunnyside Community Hospital and Prosser Memorial Hospital were put on alert.

Neither hospital knew exactly how many people would walk through their doors seeking help, but with the chemical smoke and smell drifting through the town of Grandview the possibilities were catastrophic.

According to Tom Lathen, spokesperson for Sunnyside Community Hospital, besides the eight people who came in for treatment for exposure to the fumes from the fire, the hospital had people come in for blood lab work.

According to Grandview City Administrator Jim Sewell, all of the emergency workers, including volunteer firefighters and Environmental Protection Agency workers, had blood drawn.

"They always send them (anyone exposed to fumes) to do a baseline on their blood in an incident like this," said Sewell. "They do it so if anything happens later they have an idea what was in the blood."

Sewell is unsure of how many people were tested.

Lathen said that most everyone who needed medical attention traveled to the Prosser hospital for assistance. Prosser Memorial Hospital treated about 45 people.

"I think most everything went to Prosser because of the way the wind was blowing and because of the road blocks," said Lathen.

The majority of the roads to Sunnyside were blocked off to through-traffic to keep people from traveling through the smoke filled areas.

Worried that the hospital emergency room staff would be overloaded with patients the day of the fire, Lathen said he was on site, offering to call in additional help if needed.

"They handled things extremely well," said Lathen, adding that it was already a busy day in the emergency room.

Drills helped hospital staff at both Sunnyside Community Hospital and Prosser Memorial Hospital as they were preparing for what could have been a much more difficult situation.

This week both Sunnyside and Prosser hospitals are participating in disaster drills, as a part of preparation for other potential disasters.

Stephanie Williams, spokesperson for Prosser Memorial Hospital, said that disaster drills are held twice a year at Prosser Memorial Hospital. Sunnyside Community Hospital participates in similar events once a year, said Lathen.

"The drills are really helpful in emergency preparedness," said Williams. "It makes it a lot easier to respond in a real situation and it helps us learn what works and what doesn't."

Although the hospital has run several scenarios, it has never had a chemical fire as a potential disaster, said Williams.

Scenarios have included mass casualty situations such as bleachers collapsing and a bus accident.

According to Williams, the hospital's emergency management services manager was at the scene of the fire.

"We were fortunate our EMS manager was at the scene. We got really good information from him," said Williams.

Many of the people treated by the hospital suffered from scratchy throats and breathing difficulties, said Williams, but four people were admitted to the hospital. One person also needed to be decontaminated.

A decontamination tent was set up in Grandview late in the afternoon the day of the fire for emergency personnel, but Williams said the person her hospital treated was not an emergency worker.

The wash down tent was set up on the hospital grounds once it was determined that a patient needed the service.

"The patient was brought by EMS and waited in the ambulance until we were ready to decontaminate him," said Williams.

Lathen said Sunnyside Community Hospital has a similar system, but it was not needed last week.

Williams said the fire in Grandview has helped the hospital learn there is a need for better organization of a calling tree to let people know what is going on.

"There needs to be a smooth way to contact each organization that's part of the flow," she added.

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